Friday, December 26, 2008


While taking a drive in the country this morning trying to clear my head after all the excitement of Christmas, I was listening to NPR as I tooled along. A repeat show came on which, although I'd heard it before, reminded me of something that's very important to me. Listening! The day after Thanksgiving was the National Day of Listening, started by StoryCorps, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving oral history and inspired by the King of Listeners, the late Studs Terkel, who made his mark by listening to the stories of the lives of others and being very good at compiling the interesting ones into books and articles. The National Day of Listening encourages folks to ASK their loved ones to tell them stories of their lives, and RECORD these stories for future generations. Oh, how much we can learn from our elders, things we may never discover until we ASK.

But my emphasis here is a bit different. The NPR show got me to thinking about the importance of good old everyday listening skills, not necessarily oral history. I have a friend named Molly (although because we live in different parts of the country, I haven't seen her for some years) who was the very best listener I've ever known. At the start of our friendship, I was a young newlywed and she was about 10 years older, yet we became great friends and remain that way to this day. I remember the first time I met Molly at a party, I was taken by the genuine interest she took in me, a total stranger. She asked so many questions about my life, my past, my feelings, that it took me a several hours to realize there were no ulterior motives in all of her queries. On the contrary, as the years passed, it became obvious that Molly just had a true and unselfish interest in other people. Her gentle nudgings were never intrusive, and yet my inclination was to open up to her. In fact, sometimes I felt inadequate because I wasn't very good at leading the conversation back to her. I always wanted to be as good a listener as she was, but even now, 30 years later, I can't begin to convey my interest in others (although I feel it!) with the genuineness of Molly.

There's no doubt that a person learns so much more by listening than by talking. Everyone has a story to tell, some stories more interesting than others. The important thing to remember is that the person telling the story wouldn't be telling it to you if they didn't care about you [except those folks who just like to hear the sound of their own voices, and you all know which ones they are]. One should be flattered to be the recipient of shared stories, and those stories deserve attention. I'm convinced that by learning as much as we can about one another, particularly those very different from ourselves, we can take giant steps toward peace and understanding in our world.

ADDENDUM: Wouldn't you know it? A friend of mine from Indiana will be passing through Afton tomorrow, and I won't be there! My dialysis appointment was changed from today to Saturday, so there'll be no Afton Station for me until Sunday. I'll report on activity there when I get home on Sunday.


Ken Riches said...

Listening is certainly a learned and very valuable tool and virtue.

Beth said...

Very very true. Isn't it amazing to encounter someone who expresses a genuine interest in you? They have the ability to make you feel like the only person in the room, and the most important person on the planet at that moment. I don't have that ability, and I always appreciate that person who does--it's a remarkable gift.

Hugs, Beth